Pedagogical Magic #21stcentury learning

I think I can say with some confidence – that the quality of classroom teaching has the most IMPACT on raising achievement for ALL students. Whilst I realise I’m stating the ‘blindingly’ obvious – how much time is actually given in school for teachers to develop their practice? A question posed in a recent blog by Richard Wells entitled ‘Hey Teacher! What’s your PD Ratio.’ [Follow Richard on Twitter @EDUWELLS]

How much PD is personalised to individual teachers? What constitutes great PD in this modern world? Can you develop pedagogical magic? 


There’s been some great debates raging on Twitter for quite some time now. The use of technology in education; traditionalist/progressive/contemporary pedagogy and so on. Great to follow and whilst at times quite provocative, the varying arguments ‘for and against’ certainly prompts much food for thought! However, this quote from a publication I was reading recently ‘Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching & Learning’ really struck a chord.  

‘We will surely look back in years to come and wonder how we ever believed the learning environments for young people at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century should not have been truly technology-rich.’ [Richard Olsen]

The following paragraph is taken from the IdeasLab website…

‘So much of our focus on our use of technology has played to what is known, rather than what is not. How can we possibly escape the grasp of a traditional learning paradigm if we cannot let go of the ideas that underpin it? How can we ever fully realise what new technologies make possible if we don’t apply new thinking, from new perspectives, to find new.. and exciting insights about what schooling could, and possibly should, be.’

In order to develop ‘pedagogical magic’ should the use of technology be an essential ingredient?  Well – as someone who has been lucky enough to observe lots of teachers – I know that you don’t need technology for the ‘magic’ to happen – but there are so many exciting and progressive instructional techniques – that really engage students – in their world and for their future – we would be mad not to explore the possibilities. Don’t you think? And isn’t that exciting? The possibilities…

How often does the leadership in your school allow you to trial new methods of instruction?


How does the leadership in your school allow you to develop pedagogical magic? The following Ted Talk explores one way of teaching this… It’s an old one… But the message is clear. For the magic to happen it’s all about knowing your children. Where they come from… Where they are going?

Finally… What does 21st century pedagogy look like? Does it look like this?


If pedagogy is the most important area for teacher growth – why does it get left behind? #edchat #ukedchat #learning ‘Hey #Teacher, what’s your PD ratio?’ Via @eduwells

Whether you’re new to teaching or have enjoyed it for decades, I’m sure you’ve had varying experiences with what has been labelled professional development. If any of this has been PD you have chosen, then good on you. If it was thrust upon you because someone thought you needed it, then I hope they were right. […]

Thinking about Curriculum Design! #edchat #ukedchat #21stedchat

The purpose of this post is NOT to analyse the national  curriculum – it has already been carved up by a whole host of experts who have been/still are divided about the changes. I remember primary maths being a topic of much discussion because when you look at top performing countries like Finland – where children aren’t introduced to fractions until the age of 9 – yet our children start looking at fractions at the ages of 5/6 – you have to question the whole rationale of introducing difficult concepts to even younger children – and wonder if it will actually make a difference? I guess only time will tell. The history curriculum caused a huge Twitter storm – with some experts saying it was great, others just a narrow list… And, what about the Arts? Music reduced to a couple of lines?! I could go on… But I won’t!

The bottom line is that in England, state schools have a statutory duty to cover the curriculum – and whilst academies don’t have to – many do – because they still have statutory duties to follow… (see link below)

Do academies have to follow statutory guidance?

I have to say that I’m not ‘anti’ the national curriculum. Every single child, regardless of background is entitled to an ‘excellent’ education and there should be equity of curriculum provision to ensure this – regardless of where you happen to live. Let’s face facts – there were/are too many children who were/are left behind and whose educational experience was/is less than satisfactory. Thus, a national curriculum was introduced in 1988 with the intention of eradicating these inequalities – and to set out the minimum entitlement a child should receive. Have they succeeded? Someone out there will have the finer details I’m sure! However, as always happens when we feel things are forced upon us – there was much controversy and debate that – not only are we being told what to teach – we are also being told how to teach and thus effectively deskilling teachers. And that’s a whole other issue. But, if implementing a standardised curriculum has improved life chances for children – then it has to be worth it. I like to think we have achieved a great deal in our schools – and whilst we might not like some of the accountability measures imposed on us – we have to remember that you are only a child once – we have to get it right for them. And for children born in poverty – a good education may be the only way out.

With the introduction of the ‘tough’ new ‘slimmed down’ curriculum in 2014 – the government says that it now ensures depth and now does not tell teachers “how to teach”, but concentrates on “the essential knowledge and skills every child should have” so that teachers “have the freedom to to shape the curriculum to their pupils’ needs”.

So, if we have the freedom to shape the curriculum – but must still ensure that the essential knowledge and skills are covered. Then, what does that look like? Everyone has their own opinions and dare I say ‘passions’ about curriculum design. It got me thinking – how should we design the curriculum to ensure high quality outcomes? What are the key principles and processes? How narrow/broad should the curriculum be? Is one approach more successful than another e.g. Thematic approach or a focus on the basics only. I mean – it’s all about good teaching – isn’t it?

I have read a substantial amount of research/literature about school improvement and the implementation of a new curriculum for schools that have been failing – is cited as being crucial to securing and sustaining improvement. So – with this in mind I thought I’d start looking at the curriculum that outstanding schools offer. Are there common themes? What can we learn?

 Ofsted found the following principles: 

The National College looked at top performing countries and identified the following:
 The national college also asked 10 school leaders of good and outstanding schools to share some of the ways that learning is organised in their schools. This section illustrates some of the many different ways they seek to achieve a balance between teaching basic skills, subjects and thematic learning.

“Our curriculum is carefully planned as a mix of integrated and discrete elements. Where possible we use themes to enhance learning but recognise that this is not always appropriate for all aspects of the curriculum”

“We plan for progression in all subjects to ensure challenge. We also agree on ways to extend and deepen learning through topics and themes in long term planning.”

“Everything is interlinked. Subject specific language, ideas and skills are taught and a cross-curricular approach is used, especially when this makes learning more meaningful.”

“To ensure progression we have essential skills of literacy and numeracy mapped across the curriculum. The skills map is constantly revisited. We have termly curriculum days to monitor. “

“All literacy is linked with thematic work alongside discrete phonics daily and reading workshops. We carefully map literacy and numeracy skills across the whole curriculum. We also have themed weeks, such as climate week. There is a toolkit with advice on how to plan these weeks so that they have real rigour.”

“We really emphasise the basics as a strong foundation. We then build a rich curriculum on top of this. For example, we may have an art day or week where we train teachers to focus on particular skills, such as observational sketching, and this leads to high quality work and displays.”

“We adjust the balance between a focus on basic skills and other subjects to meet the needs of particular children if we feel particular gaps need filling.”

Our medium term plan identifies the skills and knowledge and how they are targeted at different groups. Teachers always know where their children are with regard to what they know, can do and understand. They use this knowledge to plan next steps.


The national curriculum has been likened to  a set of ingredients – but not the whole dish. Or a coathanger to hang your coat on. What is clear – is that outstanding schools are offering a rich, innovative curriculum that engages pupils in a meaningful way – that has opportunties to extend, and enrich learning in a variety of contexts e.g. Themed, cross-curricular and outdoor. A curriculum that has a context (local and global) and with one eye clearly on the future – but at the heart of it – the basics, the essential skills and knowledge that children need in order to deepen their learning experiences and create their own learning pathways.

Schools need to be innovative and visionary. My next stop will be to research if there is a particular approach that encompasses all the principles and values underpinning curriculum excellence e.g. Project Based Learning, 21st Century Ecuation and to look at different curriculum design models e.g. Subject centered, student centered, problem-solving centered and so on.

What I would really like to know from schools – is how many teachers and children were involved in the curriculum design process? Did you involve all stakeholders when building your curriculum – or was it a top-down approach? Are you confident that all stakeholders could communicate the vision? Also, how often do you revisit your curriculum? Is it still fit for purpose?

So many questions…

Please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors! Beauty of blogging – freedom to let thoughts run… 🙂


Links to schools who participating in the Grand Curriculum Designs Project – The Institute of Ecuation (UCL)

Grewelthorpe Primary School

Lesson Study Resources/Links

Lesson Study is a powerful, professional learning approach that dramatically improves learning and teaching and the practice and subject knowledge of teachers.
Following on from my introductory blog to Lesson Study – I have compiled a list of resources you might find useful in school. As Peter Dudley is the Lesson Study guru – I would check out Lesson Study UK first.



Booklets to download

Improving Practice and Progression through Lesson Study

Peter Dudley’s Handbook for Lesson Study in EYFS

Lesson Study Handbook by Peter Dudley

Lesson Study: Enhancing Mathematics Teaching and Learning


Lesson Study UK
The Collaborative Classroom: Lesson Study Resources

NCETM: Lesson Study

Classroom Videos

Research Lesson Videos

Lesson Study UK have lots of videos/resources. Also check out lesson study channels on YouTube.

Lesson Study Revisited (Jugyou Kenkyuu) @lessonstudyuk

Lesson Study seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity right now. It’s hardly surprising – for at the heart of this improvement strategy are teachers working together, trying out new ideas and talking about teaching and learning to improve pedagogic practice. The collective responsibility. What’s not to like?! Yet, teachers still work in isolation, working long hours producing detailed lesson plans – following routines that have seen little change since the 1900s – despite advances in technology and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Why?!
The purpose of this blog is to share the origins of lesson study – because it’s been around for quite a while (a bit of an understatement) – to provide a brief overview and include a couple of links to some further information/resources for those who would like to know more. Also, to add my voice to those who already ‘shout out’ how powerful collaboration in education is.

Origins of Lesson Study

The origins and principles of lesson study can be tracked back to Japan to the 1870s where study meetings took place about new teaching methods. (Nakatome (ed.) By the middle of the 1960s – Japanese lesson study was well established as a strategy of in-service teacher training. (Fernandez & Yoshida, 2004). Teachers collaborating to study teaching contents and instructions by observing lessons and discussing them.

I love the photograph below – teachers are observing a lesson and filming it. Why? So the teachers can unpick the strategies the observed teacher has employed in order to discuss the impact on learning.

An example of a lesson study class in a primary school from Yamanshi Nichinchi Shimbun Newspaper.

If you are interested in reading more, Naomichi Makinae wrote a research paper about the origins of lesson study in Japan, that is well worth a read. What I found particularly interesting was that underpinning lesson study was the ‘Pestalozzian theory’ – well worth a Google. Pestalozzi – a educationalist/reformer I really admire – argued that young children should learn through experience—through physical activity and through concrete experiences with objects, where eduction is child centred and focused on the development of the whole child. No arguments from me!

  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (January 12, 1746 – February 17, 1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer, who greatly influenced the development of the educational system in Europe and America.

Lesson Study Models
Loosely, lesson study is an improvement strategy where teachers work collegially in small groups through 4 stages. Identification, planning, research/implementation and post session phases. There are a plethora of models (see below) and guides (too numerous to mention) for implementing in school but whichever one you choose – whilst the terminology may differ – the methodology remains the same. Lesson study begins with the child and ends with the child and through this process,  the pedagogic practice/innovative strategies the teacher employs to raise standards and improve outcomes – are developed and refined to ensure they are effective. What I really like about lesson study – is that the teachers involved are on an equal footing (hierarchy eliminated). All are the experts. All leaders of learning. All encouraged to take risks in a supportive setting. How empowering is that?




Fig. 1. Produced under the Primary Framework – but the message is still the same.

You might be interested to know that in Japan, lesson study is delivered across school, districts and nationally. Same methodology – different goals. Putting what constitutes effective pedagogic practice and curriculum design into the hands of the professionals. Hmm… Food for thought!

@Iris have practical guidance on how to implement lesson study in school and a free e-book can be downloaded, link below.

How to Implement Lesson Study by IRIS
Apologies for any broken links/errors/inaccuracies. Just let me know.